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Authors: John le Carré

Agent Running in the Field (19 page)

BOOK: Agent Running in the Field

And it was while I was still in this short-lived state of resolute denial that I either failed – or refused – for ten, twelve seconds by my rough calculation, to take aboard whatever further courtesies passed between Ed and Gamma after Ed plonked himself in the chair beside her. I am assured – since I never saw the footage again – that I missed nothing
of substance, and the exchanges were as trivial as they were intended to be. My recollection is further complicated by the fact that, by the time I returned to reality, the digital clock at the foot of our screens had actually
gone back
by twenty-nine seconds, Percy Price having decided that this was the opportune moment to regale us with flashback images of our newfound quarry. Ed is standing
in line in the interior of the café, brown briefcase in one hand, tin tray in the other. He shuffles past the sandwiches, cakes and pastries stall. He selects a cheddar-and-pickle baguette. He is at the
drinks counter, ordering himself an English breakfast tea. The microphones render his voice in a metallic bellow:

‘Yeah, a large one would be great. Cheers.’

He is standing at the cash desk in
a ham-fisted muddle, juggling his tea and baguette, beating his pockets for his wallet, briefcase wedged between his big feet. He is Ed codenamed Delta and he is loping over the threshold into the outdoors, tray in one hand, briefcase in the other, blinking around him as if he’s wearing the wrong spectacles. I am remembering something I read a hundred years ago in a Chekist handbook: a clandestine
meeting appears more authentic if food is taken.


I remember taking a reading of my
chers collègues
at around this point, and ascertaining no common reaction beyond a shared fixation with the two flat screens. I remember
discovering that my head was the only one looking the wrong way, and hastily readjusting it. I don’t recall Dom at all. I recall one or two fidgets round the room like symptoms of restlessness in a boring play, and a few crossings of legs and a clearing of throats here and there, chiefly from our top-floor mandarins, Guy Brammel for one. And the permanently aggrieved Marion from our sister Service:
I saw her stalk from the room on tiptoe, which is a kind of anomaly, for how do you take long paces on tiptoe? But she managed it, long skirt and all, to be followed by her two spear-carrier lawyers in their black suits. Then a short-lived blaze of light as their three silhouettes sidle through the doorway before the guards close it in their wake. And I remember having a wish to swallow and not
being able to, and a heave of the stomach like a low punch when you haven’t braced your muscles in readiness. And then bombarding myself with a scattershot of unanswerable questions that in retrospect are part of the process that any professional intelligence officer goes through when he wakes to the fact he’s been hoodwinked all ways up by his agent and is chasing round for excuses, and not finding

Surveillance doesn’t switch off because you do. The show
goes on. My
chers collègues
went on. I went on. I watched the whole of the rest of the movie in real time, live on screen, without uttering a word or offering the smallest gesture that could in any way inhibit the enjoyment of my fellow members of the audience – even if thirty hours later, when I was standing under the shower, Prue
did remark on the bloodied imprint made by my fingernails digging into my left wrist. She also refused to accept my story of a badminton injury, going so far as to suggest in a rare moment of accusation that the fingernails were not my own.

And I wasn’t just
Ed as the rest of the show unfolded. I was sharing his every move with a familiarity unmatched by anyone’s in the room. I alone
knew his body language from badminton court to
. I knew how it could be skewed by some bit of internal anger he needed to get rid of, how words clogged up at the front of his mouth when he was trying to get them out all at once. And maybe that’s why I knew for a certainty, when Percy ran back the archive footage of him blundering out of the restaurant, that his tip of the head in recognition
was directed not at Valentina, but at Tadzio.

It was only
Ed had spotted Tadzio that he approached Valentina. And the fact that by then Tadzio was already on his way out of the scene merely proves that, as ever in crisis, I continue to make reasoned operational judgements. Ed and Tadzio had previous form together. By introducing Ed to Valentina, Tadzio had completed his mission, hence his
abrupt departure from the scene, leaving Ed and Valentina sitting at ease, talking casually to each other like two strangers who find themselves seated beside one another, sipping tea and eating cheddar baguette and sponge cake respectively. So in sum, a classic covert encounter, perfectly orchestrated, or as Arkady would have it, too perfectly, and excellent use of a denim jacket.

With the soundtrack
it was no different. Here again I had the
edge over every other spectator in the room. Ed and Valentina speak English throughout. Valentina’s is good but still not free of the mellifluous Georgian lilt that had so beguiled Arkady a decade ago. There was something else about her voice – timbre, accent – that like a long-forgotten tune kept nagging at me, but the harder I tried to place it, the
more elusive it became.

voice? No mystery there. It’s the same mannerless voice that addressed me at our first badminton session: bruised, grouchy, distracted, and here and there plain rude. It will remain with me until the end of my days.


Gamma and Ed are leaning forward, talking head-to-head. Gamma the professional is at times barely audible even to the microphones on the table.
Ed, by contrast, seems unable to keep his voice below a certain level.

You are comfortable, Ed? You had no worries or problems on your way here?
I’m all right. Apart from somewhere to tie up my bloody bike. No point getting a new one round here. They’d have the wheels off before you chained it up.
You saw nobody you recognized? Nobody who made you uneasy?
think so, no. Haven’t looked really. Bit late now, anyway. How about yourself?
Were you surprised when Willi waved you down in the street? [Willi with a hard W, as German] He says you almost fell off your bicycle.
He’s bloody right I did. Him just standing there on the pavement, flapping his hand at me. I thought
he was waving for a cab. Never occurred to me he was your lot. Not
after Maria told me to get lost.
I would say that Maria acted with great discretion in the circumstances, nevertheless. We have reason to be a little bit proud of her, would you not agree?
Yeah, yeah, great. Smart footwork all round. One minute you’re not going to touch me with a bargepole. The next, Willi’s flagging me down in German and saying he’s a friend of Maria’s and you’re
all up for it and we’re back on course and let’s go. Bit unsettling, frankly.
Unsettling maybe, but completely necessary. Willi needed to catch your ear. If he had called to you in English you might have dismissed him as a local drunk and ridden straight past him. However, I hope that you are still prepared to be of assistance to us. Yes?
Well, somebody’s got to do it, haven’t they?
You can’t just sit there saying something’s all wrong but it’s not your business because it’s secret, can you? Not if you’re a halfway decent human being, can you?
And you yourself are a
decent human being, Ed. We admire your courage, but also your discretion.

(Long pause. Gamma expecting Ed to speak. Ed taking his time.)

Yeah, well, I was quite relieved to be honest when
Maria told me to get lost. Quite a considerable
weight off my mind, that was. Didn’t last, though. Not when you know you’ve got to act or you’re like the others.
[Bright new voice] I have a suggestion for us, Ed. [Consulting her mobile phone] A nice one, I hope. So far we are two casual strangers exchanging pleasantries over a nice cup of tea. In a minute I shall stand up and wish you
an enjoyable evening and thank you for our little conversation. After two minutes you will please finish your baguette, rise slowly, not forgetting your briefcase, and walk towards your bicycle. Willi will find you and escort you to a comfortable place where we can talk freely and privately. Yes? Does my suggestion worry you in any way?
Not really. Long as my bike’s okay.
has been keeping an eye on it for you. No vandals have attacked it. Goodbye, then, sir. [Handshake, almost Ed-style] It is always pleasant talking to strangers in your country. Especially when they are young and handsome like you. Please don’t get up. Goodbye.

She waves and heads off down the path to the main road. Ed makes a show of waving back, takes a mouthful of baguette, leaves the rest.
He sips his tea, scowls at his wristwatch. For one minute and fifty seconds we watch him, head down, toying with his beaker of tea exactly as he likes to toy with his frosted glass of lager at the Athleticus. If I know him at all, he is trying to decide whether to do as she suggests or forget it and hightail home. At one minute fifty-one he makes a grab for his briefcase, stands, ponders and eventually
picks up his tray and ambles over to a rubbish bin. He deposits his rubbish like a good
citizen, adds his tray to the stack, and after screwing up his face for further reflection, decides to follow Valentina down the concrete path.


The second reel, as I will call it for convenience, is set in Sergei’s semi-basement, but Sergei himself plays no part in it. His orders, received over his new
‘uncontaminated’ mobile phone and covertly copied to the Haven and Head Office, are to check the park once more for ‘indications of hostile surveillance’, then make himself scarce. It is therefore a safe presumption on the surveillance team’s part that Sergei has been cast as cut-out and will not be permitted direct contact with Ed. Tadzio on the other hand, being already conscious to Ed and vice
versa, will provide for his operational needs. But Tadzio, like Sergei, will not be present for the intimate conversation about to take place between Moscow Centre’s distinguished emissary and my Monday badminton and conversation partner Edward Shannon in Sergei’s semi-basement flat.


So, Ed. Hullo again. We are alone, we are safe and private and we may talk. First I have to thank
you on behalf of all of us for your offer of help in our time of need.
That’s all right. Long as it really helps.
I have certain obligatory questions for you. Do you allow me? Do you have any like-minded colleagues in your department who are assisting you? Kindred spirits to whom we should also be grateful?
It’s just me. And I’m not proposing to bother anyone else for stuff.
It’s not like I’ve got accomplices, right?
Then can we please talk a little more about your modus operandi? You said many things to Maria and of course we have them well recorded. Maybe tell me a little more about your special work with the copier. You told Maria you work it alone sometimes.
Yeah, well, that’s the point, isn’t it? If stuff is sensitive enough, I get to do the handling
on my own. I go in, the normal crew has to get out and stay out. They haven’t been through the sheep-dip.
Developed vetting. There’s only this one other clerk cleared apart from me, so we take turns. Her and me. Nobody trusts electronic any more, do they? Not for the really delicate stuff. It’s all paper and hand-carry, like going back in time. If copies have got to be
made, it’s back to the old steam copier.
Old-fashioned. Basic. It’s a joke.
And while you were operating the steam copier, you had your first sight of the papers called
More than a first sight. Like about a minute’s worth. The machine stuck. I just stood there looking at it.
So that was your moment of epiphany, we may say?
Of what?
Of revelation. Of enlightenment. The moment when you decided you must take the heroic step and contact Maria.
Well, I didn’t know it was going to be
did I? Maria’s who they gave me.
Was your decision to come to us instantaneous, would you say, or did it grow on you over the next hours or days?
I saw the stuff and I just thought, Christ, that’s it.
the vital passage you saw was marked Topsecret Jericho. Yes?
I told her all this.
But I am not Maria. The passage you saw had no addressee, you say.
It couldn’t have, could it? I only saw a middle bit. No addressee, no signature. Just the header:Topsecret Jericho and the reference.
Nevertheless, you told Maria that the document was addressed to the Treasury.
Seeing there was a Treasury goon standing like a foot away from me waiting for me to run the stuff off, it seemed pretty obvious it was addressed to the Treasury. Are you testing me?
I am confirming that, as Maria reported, you have excellent recall and you do not decorate your information for greater effect. And the reference was—
KIM stroke one.
KIM being the symbol of
which entity?
British joint intelligence mission, Washington.
And the figure 1?
The head man or woman of the British team.
Would you know the name of that person?
You are totally brilliant, Ed. Maria was not exaggerating. I thank you for your patience. We are careful people. Are you the proud owner of a smartphone by any chance?
I gave Maria
the number, didn’t I?
Maybe for safety give it to me again.
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